Ground Zero’s Hour

As it nears its one-year anniversary, Ground Zero New York last week broke campaigns for JetBlue and ESPN and credited its West Coast headquarters for its survival after opening shop at “the worst possible time.”

In its first JetBlue work, the agency plays on travelers’ frustrations with complex terminals and soaring airfares at Los Angeles International Airport. The guerrilla-marketing campaign, which broke last Wednesday, touts the carrier’s new, twice-daily service be tween Long Beach Airport, located 20 miles from LAX, and New York’s JFK.

JetBlue-branded Volkswagen Bugs, T-shirts, postcards, maps and bumper stickers all read, “Goodbye LAX,” and are appearing across Southern California. In addition, signs on airport shuttles at JFK and Long Beach read, “Goodbye airfare shock. Goodbye parking agony. Goodbye getting lost.”

Late last month, JetBlue dismissed Arnold in Boston after a year-long relationship in favor of “smaller vendors” for creative and media assignments. JetBlue handed this particular project to Ground Zero about six weeks ago, without a review. “We have a toe in the water,” said Andrew Gledhill, president of Ground Zero, based in Marina del Rey, Calif. “Naturally, we hope that we can do more with JetBlue.”

Separately, the New York office broke two 30-second TV spots for ESPN last week, which will run on ESPN and ABC. Ads seek to drive viewers to ESPN.com to enter in their college-football predictions, which earns them a chance to win an appearance on ESPN’s College GameDay.

In the self-deprecating spots, show host Chris Fowler rehearses his lines backstage, challenging viewers to test their wits against “the finest analytical college-football minds known to man.” Meanwhile, the thoughts of the show’s analysts wander: Kirk Herbstreit ponders if his “left hand is bigger than his right hand.” And a smiling Lee Corso nods his head to “Skip to My Lou.”

Spending for both projects was not disclosed; JetBlue spent about $15 million last year, and ESPN spent about $40 million in 2000, per CMR.

Eleven months after it opened, the New York office has five staffers and claims about $5-10 million in billings from Voss, the bottled-water brand it won last November, and project-based work such as ESPN and JetBlue.

Gledhill, a six-year Ground Zero veteran, admits to invading New York at an inauspicious time, given the dismal economic climate. “Things have gone slower than we hoped,” he said. “But we’re still in existence, and we’re still doing work, which puts us in a privileged group.”

He attributes the New York office’s survival to support from the West Coast headquarters, which helps New York secure clients, resources and talent. Ground Zero’s presence on both coasts was a factor in JetBlue’s decision to award the project to the New York location, JetBlue vp of marketing Amy Curtis-McIntyre said in a statement.

The Marina del Rey office’s five-year relationship with ESPN led to the New York outpost winning College GameDay promotional duties, said Gledhill. The work was landed in July without a review. Ground Zero New York also has minimized overhead by pulling studio, production, media and financial resources from the $100 million Marina del Rey office, such as TV production for the ESPN spots.

According to the agency, the shop’s creative reputation also has enabled the New York office to recruit top talent, such as creative partners Tyler Whisnand, a former cd at Amsterdam-based KesselsKramer, and Leslie Ali, who was an associate cd with BMP/DDB in London.